Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Courthouse

You know that dream? The one where you are desperately trying to get somewhere important, say a big exam or a crucial meeting, and everything seems to be going well, and you just can't believe you are making such good time and you just might get to stop and grab a cuppa at that really good coffee place? And in the back of your mind you just know that things are going to go terribly, terribly wrong and you find that you are on the wrong road and there are no signs and no way to turn around and it gets dark and your lights don't work and your car won't go faster than 2 MPH and, and, and, and just before the one-hooked escapee from the mental asylum slashes through your car's roof on this suddenly deserted road, you wake up?

Yeah. That one.


Cut to this morning. A big morning in our household. Marked on the calendar and etched in our brains. 10am. Courtroom 390. The Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee. Charles's summons to the swearing-in ceremony for new American citizens.

Yup, our boy was officially cashing in his green (pink, now yellow) card and becoming a dual American-Canadian citizen. We were a bit surprised that his citizenship application went through so quickly, as he is even more left than I am and I can't imagine the current administration will be thrilled to have one more of us liberal chuckleheads voting, but oversights can sometimes turn out in your favor.

For the past week or two, we debated whether or not to have Sara and I come, Colin being in school, getting his own civic education. His bus comes about 2 hours and 20 minutes before we needed to be there and we are about 2 hours out, driving the speed limit. Now, Charles is a master at (ahem) compressing the drive time, but what about road construction? And parking. This is downtown, for Pete's sake. Parking is sure to be a nightmare. There is almost certain to be a parking garage nearby, though. We decided that, worst case scenario, if we cut it too close, we could scream up to the entrance and he could leap out of the driver's side and I could scootch over and park the car, then worry about getting myself and Sara where we needed to be.

OK, then. We were going. Yes. Plans and back-up plans.

This morning, we were up in plenty of time, got ourselves all ready, including breakfast stuff in the car and change of clothes for Sara, in case she wiped out what she was wearing. All final paperwork in hand. Gas in the vehicle. Jumper cables and street maps (3 separate sets, yes, why?) and all, because you just never know. Colin's bus comes right on time and we pull out as planned. Traffic is great. The radio is playing good music. All is well. We take the I-94 out of Madison and I pull out the Gameboy, because, well, we are on target to get there 30 minutes early and all is going better than planned. We just have to head East until we hit Milwaukee and then take 1 exit and turn left twice. We toodle along blissfully for about 20 miles.

So why is the sun behind us? Well, sort of behind and over to the right? That would make our direction Westish. Well, Northwestish. Huh. Well, freeways sometimes curve one way and then back to where they are heading. Except why is the sign telling us how close we are to the fucking Wisconsin Dells?!?

Fuck! Fuckity fuck, fuck. Fuck!!

It is now 1 hour and 15 minutes until we have to have Charles in Milwaukee, some 90 miles away. Forget parking and traffic and road construction delays and courthouse security. There is just no way. NO. WAY.

Yeah. Getting to feel just like that dream.

Charles takes the pragmatic view and decides to throw in the towel and go back home, maybe by way of the liquor store. I take the completely unrealistic hopeful view that we should just go for it, because, where else do we have to be today? Who knows, maybe someone will take pity on a nice, clean-cut Canadian and his sweet, frazzled wife and absolutely adorable daughter and swear him in, in the hallway, if we slip them a $20. We turn off at the next exit, another mile or so down the freeway, gritting our teeth, deeply regretting my coming, because if I had stayed, he would have left at least an hour before, just to be there early and park and all, like he always does. I also realize that the bribing of the federal official will not work as this is Wisconsin, not Chicago, and we may even end up in jail, including Sara, if we attempt it.

I frantically search the documents for a phone number to call to see if there is any way we can rectify the situation. There is a sentence at the bottom of the summons that says to respond in writing if you are unable to make the ceremony. Somehow I don't see this as helpful at the moment.

We drive, um, quickly. Yes. Quickly. Speedily. Not implying that any laws of the road were broken. Nope. Not us. We are a completely law-abiding citizen and soon-to-be citizen, if we had only taken the right exit to get on the freeway.

We speak tersely. We grind our teeth. I feel very, very bad for coming. We look at the speedometer and the clock and the speedometer and back to the clock and my God! just stop looking at the control panel of the car because it just isn't helping the situation at all, is it?!

We also keep all our eyes that can be spared from the worthless watching of the dashboard peeled for anything that looks like a cop car. Not that we were speeding. Nope. Just out of interest.

The miles peel away. We reach Milwaukee at 9:50. I can not tell you how. 10 minutes to navigate the seemingly easy off-ramp to the 2 left turns. We raise the arm rests in preparation for our screech-and-swap-drivers plan. The ceremony is, after all, taking place in a government institution. Maybe they are running late. Maybe they schedule like anal medical clinics, telling people to be there early so if they are late, they will still have time to fill out their insurance information and medical histories and patient satisfaction surveys and all. Or so I've heard.

We just need the exit 310B. Not "A" or "C", but "B". It is one of those 3 way exits. "A" and "C" are labeled. "B" is not. "C" says that it is for I-794, which we are looking for but does not designate "East" or "West". We have 10 feet to decide. I yell, "left!" as the instructions say to bear left and it is the only exit to the left and is between "A" and "C".

I am, of course, wrong. We should have gone with door #C, to the right.

All hope is lost. We decide to turn around and go to the courthouse, anyway, to see who we can talk to to reschedule things. We rehearse our deep apologies. We practice summoning some discrete tears. Even I give up all hope.

Dispiritedly we head off in the right direction.

And the heavens part and the angels sing and we are magically transported to the front of the courthouse. It is 10:05.

And what the hell is that? The entire curb across from the main entrance of the Federal Courthouse is open and clear. Parking meters marching along empty spaces. The sign reads "No parking from 6pm to 10am."

Movie parking for us. Movie parking when we needed it most.

Now I really don't believe that the All-Being-Of-Time-And-Space micromanages in our piddly little lives, but if I did, I would call it a miracle and go on the 700 Club.

Charles pulls up and leaps across the street and into the courthouse.

I sit stunned for 5 seconds, stagger out and plunk 90 minutes of change in the meter (all the quarters in the parking-and-toll change-cup in the car), thinking that it would be a small good deed for who ever came after us.

I gather up toddler, books, purse, and sanity and scamper to the corner. Notice I did not jaywalk, despite my urge. Very law abiding.

The two polite security guards at the metal detector and x-ray thingie efficiently get us through and, after asking if we were here for the ceremony, direct us succinctly to the room. I notice they don't seem surprised that we are late.

We get to the room, an amazing, polished, carved and gleaming oak room. (Only the floor was not oak. Seriously. That and the 2 small busts of Lincoln and Kennedy.) There were about 50 others sitting in rows in front of the bar, where Charles was, waiting to be sworn in. The 30 or so friends and family members along to watch were seated on benches (oak, natch) in the back. We camped out on one and broke out the books. And then the crayons.

At 10:45, the clerk came in and announced that in 15 more minutes, the court would be called to order and hizonner would preside over the swearing in. We should feel free to roam about the halls.

Yup. It started an hour late.

And I could do nothing but giggle with glee.

And look at my watch rather frequently to make sure the parking meter was not going to run out before we were through as I had only put in 90 minutes of change in. Good deed and all.

So, the nice, friendly judge (a credit to Wisconsin, he was) came in a bit after 11am and swore in all those newly minted Yanks (or 1/2 Yank, in the case of Charles), even cracking a sly joke in the midst of his speech.

Sadly, there was no cake afterward, so we went out for lunch and bought a chocolate pie, which made Charles and I rather sick but the kids loved. (Note to self, if you ever go back to a Perkins, do not succumb to the French Silk pie. It has little chocolate flavor and about 3 times the amount of sweet it needs.)

So, there we are. Beforehand, I had thought this trip, aside from being a notable event for us as a family, might be worth a post. Heh.

All rise. This court is no longer in session. Thank you, God and all the sweet saints, micromanagers or not.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let's see if we can figure this out: you guys drove 90 miles an hour for a full hour clear across Wisconsin without a single highway patrol noticing anything. Not to mention the weaving in and out of traffic as you approached Milwaukee. Outstanding! And all the fates could reward you with was a full hour of sitting on those hard oak benches trying to entertain a small child while waiting for the judge. Cool!

Wanna buy me a lottery ticket, hmmm?


2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story!!! Almost as good as our family leaving Japan with loads of baggage and a 2-month-old Gail. I don't think I told your mom that I was bumped from the flight. Imagine 1 baby, 1 toddler, a dozen bags and a mom deprived of liquid refreshment for a trip across the Pacific...non-stop. Well, after pulling several strings, I managed to get an Army Private kicked off so I could get on. I am sure that he really was inconvenienced to spend one more night in Tokyo.

Congrats to the 1/2 citizen. Now he can vote and feel responsible for whatever. Give him a big hug.

The Ole RF-er

1:32 PM  
Blogger Babs said...

This SOOOO sounds like an event planned by my family.

We never get ANYWHERE on time.

Except you're lucky and escape Murphy's Law in the end.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Morris- Yup. Saw one cruiser who had pulled over some other schmo and virtuously drove past at 55. The freeway is very straight, flat, and has little traffic, so we were lucky. We normally hang out at 60-65, so we cashed in every bit of luck we had. If it had been anything else, we would have just been good, but you don't mess with immigration.

Dad- Consider him hugged. Very much looking forward to voting together rather than with him waiting in the car.

Babs- It does, doesn't it? When we got home, we found our luck had run out. A pipe from the upstairs bathroom had sprung a leak and dripped through the basement ceiling. We now have a lovely fist-sized hole on the ceiling and a pan under the drip. I started grumping about houses and repairs then remembered your EFL and shut up. We will be calling a plumber with pleasure, dammit.

5:24 PM  
Blogger moegirl said...

Congratulate Charles on his shiny new American citizenship!

Funny you mention 700 Club. As an insominac, I have found a new religious freakshow, with an even cheezier (yet, refreshingly less insane) televangelist than Robertson, sells tiny vials of "holy waters" that will resolve your woes. Perhaps a couple of these vials maybe useful, or you could call in for a wholesale blessing of the waters coming from your bathroom to solve the problem.

Anyway, all the best to the now All-American family!

6:01 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

First, you must navigate the construction in the Marquette Interchange, which is the largest highway construction project in the history of the state, THEN you have to guess which side the (BLEEP!)ing courthouse exit is on, all while being late, late for a very important date.

I hereby nominate you for sainthood.

And congratulations on surviving the INS insanity!

8:46 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Stacy- He read your comment and considers himself congratulated. Scarier than the 700 Club? Wow. I do like the idea of blessing the waters of the plumbing so they floweth into the ceiling nevermore.

Teri- How we wished for your guidence in that decision. Honestly, construction not withstanding, Milwaukee, at least the bits we have driven, is actually surprisingly well laidout. This is also the first time mapquest has failed us.

7:44 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

I'm sorry, it's horrible and wrong but I was laughing while reading this. A lot.

I am so evil. Shun me. I am Satin.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Sweet Jesus, I would have been a basket case. A total basket case. In the end it sounds like it was a little like jury duty...hurry up and wait!


12:02 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

Great story! You do a great job with these suspense stories (I'm thinking of the time Colin was in the hospital).

Congrats to the half-Yank (love that term!) on his citizenship and on his navigational skills.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Dana- No, please, laugh away, laugh often. That means that something good came from the situation. And all ended well. We will be laughing maniacly for years to come.

Jamie- A lot like jury duty. Also the ceremony was oddly like a wedding, complete with "if any here know of a reason why any of these people should not be granted citizenship, please rise and state your reasons."

Rozanne- Welcome back, honey! Thanks. We have been parcelling his body parts as "Yank" or "Canuk". His ingrown toenails are clearly Yank. His lovely brown hair with no (bastard) grey, clearly Canuk.

10:36 AM  

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